Phillies 2015 – Week Twenty-Five
Listen, my friends, let’s not sugar-coat it, this has been a long year; weeks of pain and failure alleviated by the occasional winning streak, walk-off or the distraction of a heart-wrenching farewell. Here at The Cave, we have gotten through it by enjoying the little things. While the Death Star tractor beam continues to pull us toward 100 losses, this week did give us a few of those precious moments of joy … as well as one doozy of a meltdown from an old friend.
Our heroes were off on Monday. A relaxing late season day off in beautiful Miami, F-L-A.
If you would, please allow a humble chronicle to use this empty space in the season to declare his unwavering love of Honeycrisp Apples. As millions smack their lips at the return of Pumpkin Spice, this writer creeps hopefully into the produce section and shrieks with the delight of a child on Christmas morning at the sight of those sweet spheres of perfection.
I’m sorry … I seem to have drifted off. Where was I? Ah, yes … Miami.
The first order of business was the announcement that the Phillies had dropped the ‘Interim’ from Pete Mackanin’s title. The new skipper signed an extension through next year. Logic is that this team is still going to be developing and going through growing pains next season. So, why run out and get an expensive, big-name bench boss now. Let Mackanin take the beating and, once the young core of talent becomes an inviting option, you can go get this team’s next manager.
As for the game, veteran righty Aaron Harang seemed determined to finish his disappointing season on an up-tick as he tossed seven effective innings. His defense obliged him by turning four double plays behind him. The one blemish was a two-out, two-run home run by the 8-hole hitter, shortstop Miguel Rojas. In Harang’s defense, the ‘hulking’ Venezuelan infielder had managed one other dinger in his 300 or so major league at bats. Fortunately, the Phillies offense had already staked their pitcher to a 5-0 lead thanks to the speed of Aaron Altherr, some effective small ball and the power of Cody Asche and Darin Ruf. Asche tacked on a second tater for good measure as the visiting Phils won the opener. Phillies 6, Marlins 2
David Buchanan’s long road to some measure of redemption picked up on Wednesday night in south Florida. He threw 48 strikes in 69 pitches across 5 innings. He left the game trailing 2-0. But, when Erik Kratz rumbled home on a Mike Dunn wild pitch in the 8th inning, the replay eventually confirmed that Buchanan was off the hook and the score was 2-2. In the 10th, a Freddy Galvis liner to left plated Brian Bogusevic to give the Phils a 3-2 lead. But, in the bottom of the inning, Carlos Ruiz’ throwing error on a Donovan Solano sacrifice bunt allowed Ichiro Suzuki to score. This resulted in Ken Giles’ first blown save since he assumed the closer’s role earlier this season. Dee Gordon’s RBI double in the bottom of the 11th walked it off for the Fish. Marlins 4, Phillies 3
Rookie Alec Asher collected two hits of his own while only allowing three by the Marlins over seven strong innings. On the other side, Jarred Cosart’s night was cut short when he was struck in the left forearm by a line drive off the bat of Asche. Five Marlins relievers combined to finish off the shutout, allowing only two Phillies to reach base in five innings of work. Marlins 1, Phillies 0
In April, the Washington Nationals were favored to win the NL East. As this weekend series opened they were hovering near .500 and awaiting their inevitable elimination from the post-season.
It was against that backdrop that rookie Jerad Eickhoff would author his third straight quality start. He fanned 10 Nats in seven innings, allowing only an RBI single and a solo homer, both by Jayson Werth. Fellow rookie Altherr, made sure Eickhoff’s skillful performance was rewarded with a W. With the bases loaded in the top of the 3rd inning, Altherr stroked a line drive into centerfield. Washington outfielder Michael Taylor sold out in a fruitless attempt at a diving catch. As the ball skipped by Taylor and into the empty outfield, Altherr shifted into top gear. With long, graceful sprinter’s strides, he coasted around the bases for an inside-the-park grand slam. He would add a more conventional tater in the fifth when both he and Ruf took Nats’ starter Jordan Zimmermann deep. Asche added a two-run bomb in the eighth to seal the deal as the Phils hit four homers in a game for only the third time this season. Phillies 8, Nationals 2
The Nationals, pushed to the brink of elimination by a Mets win in Cincinnati, gave the ball to Stephen Strasburg. The former #1 overall draft pick has been enjoying a terrific run that included a 14 K performance in Philadelphia 11 days prior. The Phillies countered with Aaron Nola. The impressive rookie righthander pitched as though he knew it was his last start of the season. He retired the first six batters he faced, then coolly worked out of a bases loaded nobody out jam in the 4th inning. After a 1-2-3 fifth inning, he was pulled having reached his innings limit for the year. Meanwhile, Strasburg, who knows a thing or two about being shut down by an arbitrary IP limit, retired the first 12 Phillies he faced.
Reliever Adam Loewen did not get the memo regarding high quality pitching. The pitcher-turned outfielder-turned-first baseman-turned pitcher walked Bryce Harper and threw two wild pitches while walking Werth. After Mackanin came and got him, Harper scored on a weak grounder to third by Ian Desmond. Strasburg cruised into the 8th with the 1-0 lead. But, things were evened up on Bogusevic’s RBI double. As the game rolled toward extra innings, news came from Cincinnati that the Mets had won 10-2 and clinched the division. In the bottom of the 12th, Harper came to the plate with the winning run on second base. The MVP front-runner popped up a 2-2 pitch from Colton Murray that sailed toward the Nationals’ dugout. Ruf ranged over, following the flight of the ball as he carefully reached for the railing. As he lunged to make the catch, he reached past the arc of the tumbling horsehide, failing to make the catch as his momentum nearly sent him over the barrier. On the next pitch, Harper rifled a liner into the rightfield corner to end the game. Nationals 2, Phillies 1
Harang threw six solid innings. Of the 89 pitches he threw, there were only two he regretted. In the second inning, Desmond and Matt den Dekker sent successive pitches into Souvenir City to give Gio Gonzalez a 2-0 lead. In the top of the 6th, three singles and two walks chased Gonzalez and tied the game at 2-2. The Nats had taken a 4-2 lead into the 8th when Jeff Francoeur laced the first pitch he saw from Casey Janssen over the left field wall. Washington manager Matt Williams would eventually call on his closer Jonathan Papelbon to get the last out of the inning to preserve the 4-4 tie. While he was waiting to go back in to pitch the top of the ninth in the dugout, Papelbon watched Harper slough it to first on a pop fly. As the young phenom made his way back to the dugout, the veteran reliever appeared to dole out some wisdom in his own inimitable style. Harper blanched and the two exchanged glares and angry words that turned the home dugout into a WWE ring. Papelbon lunged at Harper’s throat, pinning him briefly against the wall before teammates intervened and separated them. Both dismissed the incident later as a testosterone-fueled fight between brothers. For reasons that defy all logic, Williams sent Papelbon out to pitch the 9th inning and Harper was replaced in the field. After a one-out walk to Galvis, Papelbon threw a ‘get-me-over’ fastball to Andres Blanco and the guy they call ‘Whitey’ smoked it into the seats. Blanco’s blast popped a cork as the Phillies added six more runs, plating eight in their final road at-bat of the season. The Nats managed a run off Giles, but no more. Phillies 12, Nationals 5
It was no secret throughout baseball that Papelbon was, shall we say, challenging. His effectiveness on the mound has never been in question. But, where there is smoke, there is fire and, in most cases, ol’ Cinco Ocho seems to be the smoke. Even if we never see Nick Pivetta at the major league level, it’s pretty clear that moving Papelbon was addition by subtraction.
Oh, yeah … the Tragic Number is 3.
Looking ahead –
The season winds up with six games at The Bank, three each with the Mets and the Marlins. If the season series against the Mets is any indicator, we may see that mythical 100th loss on Thursday night. Or, we can cling to the hope that the Mets will be resting their starters for the postseason. Don’t touch that dial, kids!!
Ballpark Tour of the Week –
Aaron Altherr’s inside-the-park grand slam was the fifth in Phillies history and the first time since Ted Kazanski in 1956. But, when he added that second dinger, he joined Willie ‘Puddin’ Head’ Jones (and his notoriously sore feet) as the only Phils to hit both kinds of homers in the same game.
Comeback of the Week –
After weeks of whispers and some second-guessing about the necessity, it looks like Maikel Franco will be back for the final games of the season. The rookie third-baseman has been sidelined since August 11th, when he was hit by a Jeremy Hellickson pitch, breaking a bone in his wrist.